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Outsiders Take Fight to City Hall : Politics: Hoping to cash in on voter dissatisfaction, the challengers are striking hard at the long-lived controversy over the $120-million Civic Center.

CITY ELECTIONS: BEVERLY HILLS. First in a series of articles examining city council campaigns for the April 14 elections.

March 22, 1992|MATHIS CHAZANOV and BEVERLY HILLS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to cash in on voter dissatisfaction with crime, traffic, lawyers' fees and the city's financially troubled school system, six outsiders are challenging three incumbents in the April 14 election for the Beverly Hills City Council.

After a quiet opening phase, the race took a tart turn recently when Councilman Bernard J. Hecht, who spent the most money and won the fewest votes when the three incumbents first ran in 1988, came in for a personal attack at a League of Women Voters candidates forum.

Boos and hisses filled the air in the auditorium of the Hawthorne School two weeks ago when challenger James Fabe, 39, a dentist, contended that Hecht was incapable of conducting a public meeting.

Hecht, 69, who has built a reputation for always having something to say about anything that comes up at council meetings, is in line to take over as mayor if reelected. He brushed off Fabe's attack as an attention-getting trick.

"If I could get up on the bima (synagogue stage) and read from the Torah, then I can read the consent calendar," he said in an interview.

Along with Hecht, the retired owner of a trucking and warehouse business, the incumbents are Vicki Reynolds, 56, who served two terms on the school board, and Allan L. Alexander, 51, an attorney and former planning commissioner.

The challengers include Salvatore W. (Bill) Di Salvo, 64, an insurance broker; Martin Halfon, 33, a real estate agent; Dean Lavine, 20, a student; Tom Levyn, 42, an attorney, and Herm Shultz, 69, a retired furniture store owner and former president of Concern for Tenant Rights, a renter's group. Catherine (Kay) Coleman, 57, a waitress, is also on the ballot but has dropped out of the race.

Compared with the other incumbents, Hecht had relatively little experience in city government before taking office.

But he pointed out that the challengers are all relatively new to city government, while he has had four years of on-the-job training. And he vowed to curb his windiness.

"I'm really trying to tone it down. When you ramble on and on you lose everybody," Hecht said.

After two unsuccessful attempts, Hecht did get elected four years ago at a cost of $105,698, according to campaign records. Most of that was his own money, something about which he's not ashamed.

"You've really got to do what you've got to do," he said. This year, candidates agreed on a $50,000 spending limit.

Once in office, Hecht said, he played a major role in bringing civility to the once-stormy City Council. Like the other incumbents, he also takes credit for maintaining a high level of police and fire protection while increasing the city's support for the school system to $5.1 million a year despite a drop in revenue.

But the challengers, brushing all that aside, are striking hard at the long-lived controversy over the $120-million Civic Center. This puts the incumbents in the uncomfortable position of having to justify millions of dollars in legal fees to recover the cost overruns for construction of a project that they never approved in the first place.

The Civic Center was well underway when the three took office four years ago, but challengers fault the City Council for failing to resolve the litigation without going to court. The trial, scheduled to begin May 1, could last for many months.

"We have spent $3 million of our money on the Civic Center lawsuit and there is no end in sight," Levyn said. If the city loses, he added, the city could be required to pay the contractors' legal fees. "Perhaps now is the time to stop compounding our mistakes."

Many of the challengers echoed Levyn's complaints, but Alexander, a real estate attorney, said the City Council was right to see the project finished "and then to settle or go to court."

Alexander added, however, that it is important for city officials to learn from the mistakes made on the Civic Center. He said the city has in its possession the tiles needed to complete the decoration of the soaring archways that link the new police station and library with City Hall, but he believes the tiles should be left in their boxes for a while.

"I will not approve any funding while I'm on the City Council to install the rest of the tiles because I want it to be a symbol, to remind us of the excess and waste of spending on the Civic Center," Alexander said. "Every time I look at the empty place where the tiles are supposed to go, I say, 'Never again.' "

Reynolds, who has been mayor since last April, agreed.

"It never should have gotten to the size and cost to maintain that it has," she said.

Responding to complaints of increased crime, Reynolds said the city still enjoys "a terrific police presence," but she acknowledged that people want more visible patrols of streets and alleys.

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